Monday, March 24, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Seventeen

Bob Jones University violates federal law by interfering and tampering with students' mail coming through the US Postal System. It happened to my mail in the spring of 2003.

I'd subscribed to TIME magazine at the beginning of the calendar year, and several had been delivered with no problems. Then one day in February I received a call slip in my post office box. It said to see my dorm supervisor within 24 hours of the slip being put in my mailbox. (Funny how students could easily get in trouble for not responding to a call slip, even if the student didn't know about said slip if he or she had failed to check the mail that day--a demerit accruing offense.)

When I went to see her that evening after dinner, she held up the latest copy of my TIME magazine and informed me that it needed to be edited. She handed me a pair of scissors and watched while I cut out the pages she indicated. An ad for cigarettes on the back cover, another similar ad inside, an artistic rendition of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the cover art all were snipped out, crumpled into little balls, and tossed into the wastebin at her feet.

Maybe she really didn't approve of this interracial couple singlehandedly
bringing about a one-world government and the subsequent Apocalypse?

Notice she didn't cut the pictures out herself, but forced me to mutilate my own mail (refusing would have resulted in a punishment of 50 demerits for "failure to follow instructions").  It was humiliating and frustrating, especially since there was nothing inherently wrong with the pictures she made me destroy.

Taking my mail and holding it hostage till I censored it for her is something I have a hard time forgetting.  But this particular woman was always on a massive power trip, and I frequently ended up in her crosshairs.

This dorm supervisor (a single woman who was a recent graduate of BJU) displayed her love of power over me again when I was invited to a BJU staff family's home along with a few Bob Jones Academy students who I had befriended over the summer in our mutual workplace, the BJU Dining Common. This staff couple, parents of an Academy student and two in the elementary school, had us over for pizza and a movie.  Before extending the invitation to me, a University student (I was only a year or two older than the rest of the young people there, though socially much younger), the host checked to be sure showing the Lord of the Rings (NOT rated G) would be okay.  She received special permission, and told me I could also wear jeans, since she had some yard work she had in mind for us to do for her while there.

Well, I went and had a lovely time.  I was back on campus and checked in by 10:25pm, as per the regulations.  When I walked into my room, one of my roommates, our room's University-designated "Assistant Prayer Captain," said in horror, "You didn't wear that, did you?!"

Turns out, that semester the rules had changed.  It was no longer appropriate nor permissible for female students to wear jeans on or off campus, for any activity.  This belied the handbook, which stated jeans, which had been checked by the dorm staff, could be worn to specific off-campus event, such as horseback riding and outdoors/hard labour activities (like yard work).  The rule change was announced during a 10:30pm hall meeting a month or two prior to this.

During hall meetings, all the girls in the dorm sat in the hallways and listened to
announcements and rants from the dorm supervisor over the speaker system.

Well, I hadn't remembered the rule change, because I didn't memorise what was said at every hall meeting.  We weren't given extra pages of the new rules to glue into our already-huge rulebooks, so how was anybody supposed to keep track of that sort of thing?  I'd followed directions by wearing jeans, as I'd been told, and hadn't questioned the staff member's instructions.  I suppose I was too trusting.

My roommate turned me in, that is, ratted me out to the authorities.  (Turning people in is very much encouraged at BJU--if you don't, you are an accessory to whatever broken rule you witness, and may receive the same punishment as the offender.)  I got called in to the dorm sup's office again.  She asked me what I did while wearing the offending garment.

"I watched a movie and ate pizza in a mixed-gender party off campus.  Yes, I had a Dean of Women-approved pass.  No, I didn't think to double-check my outfit.  No, I didn't remember that jeans have been banned this semester; I wore these same jeans off campus just a couple months ago at a University-approved community event, and it was okay then."

Her disapproval and displeasure were highly evident.  She said she'd check with the staff lady to see if my story proved correct, but that staff members aren't required to memorise the rules, so she could not have been able to tell me to wear jeans.  A day or two later, she called me back in.  No, the staff lady was not authorised to override the rules to let me wear jeans.  I was also in trouble for watching Lord of the Rings, even though special permission had been given.  But, since special permission had been erroneously given (meaning the mix up was the Deans' fault), my punishment would be lessened.

She said, "I really ought to give you 50 demerits for failure to follow instructions in watching an inappropriate movie, and 50 more for the jeans (immodest dress), but I'm going to be merciful to you and only give you 50 total."

She repeated herself and emphasised her mercy.  She was having mercy on me.  How I despised her for equating that disdainful and condescending attitude with God's mercy!

I escaped without further accrual of demerits and stayed clear of her for a while, till it was time for "spiritual evaluations."  Every student at Bob Jones University is required to fill out a form rating themselves on their spirituality, and I could never get mine right.  My freshman year, I'd rated myself too high, according to the roommate who "graded" me.  The first semester of my sophomore year, I'd not been honest about my failings, according to the roommate who graded me that time.  This time, I rated myself below what I really thought, and still it wasn't acceptable.  My room's spiritual leader accused me of not taking it seriously enough, and turned me in to the dorm sup again.

My dorm supervisor told me in a matter-of-fact tone that I was not above reproach and would need to receive spiritual counseling the next semester.  She would not give me details or explain, saying, "You know why, Hannah."

So, sure enough, the next year, my junior year, when it was expected that upperclassmen students be serving or the very least recommended for service as dorm spiritual leaders, I was made to undergo "spiritual counseling."  I was never told the reason why.  But it was a horror-fest.  Maybe I'll be able to talk about it soon.  But not today.